Underworld 

A Hundred Days Off

It's been three years since we last heard from Underworld, the popular British group that successfully combines elements of techno and house with vocals and melody. Having a singer (Karl Hyde) up at the front of the stage undoubtedly helped them gain a foothold in the United States in the mid-'90s when the first go-round of "electronica" hype took place, because of the human element that people could latch onto.

After the release of Beaucoup Fish in 1999, golden boy Darren Emerson left to nurture his burgeoning DJ and solo production career, which many at the time believed would signal the end of Underworld. Emerson was viewed as the guy who brought in the dance element. So what did the group do? It released a live CD and DVD, which seemed more like an afterthought than a next step.

So now they're back with a new album, A Hundred Days Off. And while it's not a classic, it's certainly not a failure. If anything, Hundred proves that Underworld is still relevant in an increasingly crowded and fragmented electronic music scene. The album is more moody and subdued, but by no means does it avoid barn-burners. "Two Months Off," the first single, is a bumping, blistering track that sets the tone for much of the album. "Dinosaur Adventure 3D" is a tight-fisted builder that quivers and shakes nervously before Hyde's eerie moans filter through the mayhem. But the real difference with Hundred is that it's cohesive. It's not simply several individual tracks ready-made for the dance floor. In fact, there's a real sense of melancholy and sadness throughout. "Trim" is cool and graceful, almost mournful, while the next track, "Ess Gee," is a soothing little interlude comprised of just a guitar and some carefully placed keyboards. Hyde's usual nonstop stream-of-consciousness, nonsensical lyrics are there, but they seem more reined in. In short, Emerson or no Emerson, this time around it's a darker and mellower ride with plenty of satisfying hooks and beats.

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